Last night President Barack Obama spoke at a memorial gathering in Tucson, AZ, honoring the victims of the mass shooting there last Saturday which left 6 dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In responding to a natural disaster or a horrific act, a president's role is to console and to uplift. Not all presidents have risen to the occasion. Obama not only rose, he transcended the moment in a passionate address which will stand as a defining moment in his presidency.
His speech noted the need for better gun safety laws and improved mental health outreach, as well as the need for more restraint and respect when we debate our differences. But above all the President honored the fallen, the survivors, their families, the first responders, and the medical teams who are tending the survivors. He paid individual attention to each of the slain, and reflected on how their lives have so much in common with our own. He called for remembrance, respect, and responsibility. He called above all for a return to the vision of a nation of which our children can be proud. He said in part --
"Let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together. After all, that's what most of us do when we lose someone in our family -- especially if the loss is unexpected. We're shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past .... But sudden loss also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves whether we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, or whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or money, or fame -- but rather, how much we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others .... The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors, better co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us to face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud .... All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."
Response to the president's thoughts has been overwhelmingly welcoming. Whether in editorial print or in a PBS discussion among presidential historians, commentors have noted with approval Obama's dignified and inspiring success in rising above political partisanship, and in celebrating those qualities which we as a nation share.
Here is a link to the video of the entire Presidential address -- a speech which will, I predict, take its place among the most honored in our nation's history. And here is a link to the transcript of the speech, to scan at your leisure. Each is worth saving.
Above, Obama shares a moment of consolation with Mark E. Kelly, the husband of Representative Giffords.